These Young People Know How to Change the World

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November 24, 2011; Source: CNN.comFrom deep inside Taliban-controlled Pakistan, an 11-year-old girl started an online journal protesting the impending closure of the region’s schools to girls. Now 13, Malala continues to fight for the right to an education, especially for girls, through an online media campaign. For this work she has won Pakistan’s inaugural National Peace Prize for children under the age of 18 who “contribute to peace and education” in the volatile country. She is one of five young people nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize, a competition sponsored by the Netherlands-based nonprofit KidsRights.

2011 marks the seventh year of the International Children’s Peace Prize. The prize has two main elements: First, the sponsoring NGO pledges 100,000 Euros for spending on projects related to the winner’s issue. Second, the winner gains access to global leaders and global audiences in order to raise the visibility of his/her issue and compel action to address it.

Past Nobel Peace Prize–winning adults, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, and Desmond Tutu, have made award presentations. Past winners have taken on such issues as reuniting families in refugee camps, securing rights of nationality for children without birth certificates, stepping into the war between drug cartels and police to get local schools reopened, allowing children with AIDS to attend school, and more.

Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire, from Northern Ireland, presented this year’s prize. (Malala didn’t win the international prize.) The other finalists this year, culled from a group of 98 nominees from 42 different countries, included:

  • Fourteen-year-old Ugandan Winifred, who documents violence against children. She also established a peer-to-peer counseling club for abused children.
  • Seventeen-year-old Armenian Nikolay, who organizes live presentations and online discussions on human rights and democracy in his country.
  • Seventeen-year-old Palestinian Liza, who promotes peace between Israeli and Palestinian youth through sports.
  • And the international prize–winner, seventeen-year-old Michaela Mycroft of South Africa. (Born with cerebral palsy, Michaela advocates for the rights of children with disabilities in her country. She’s been fundraising for the cause since the age of nine, and her efforts seeded a new NGO called the Chaeli Campaign, which now employs over 20 professionals working toward this goal.)

How can we not be inspired by these children’s courage to take on big, seemingly intractable issues? Obviously, they believe they can make a difference. And indeed they do.—Kathi Jaworski